taken from 'NORTH COUNTRY SPORTS AND PASTIMES' published in 1893

james robinson of hackthorpe


CARLISLE, the principal, the most influential and attractive wrestling ring in Cumberland and Westmorland, and the Lowther family the leading one of the two counties were /or a considerable period closely allied. William, Earl of Lonsdale, was a most munificent patron of the ring, from its commencement in 1809, and for fully a quarter of a century afterwards. On several occasions, this nobleman subscribed the sum of twenty guineas, the full amount of prizes then given at the Border city; besides holding meetings at Clifton , near Lowther, and other places, for the entertainment of his guests. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that his gamekeepers, wood-foresters, hinds, grooms, and other domestics, should be sometimes found practising the art and mystery of buttocking, hyping, swinging, and back-heeling, on sunny evenings in summer, under the shadow of some stately oak or sycamore, in the park surrounding Lowther Castle.

Of JAMES ROBINSON, one of the Earl of Lonsdale's gamekeepers, we have not been able to glean many particulars. He was a stout built, muscular man, rather low set, stood about five feet ten inches high, and weighed fully fourteen stones. He became a clever and effective buttocker; but excelled, we understand, more in defence, and as a stiff sturdy stander in the ring, than from any great amount of science he possessed.

The earliest mention of Robinson, as a wrestler, which we can find, occurs at the great gathering at Penrith in 1812. In the first round there, he threw one J. Graham of Thomas Close, but owing to imperfect reporting, his name does not appear again in the list. In 1815, the Committee of the Carlisle wrestling ring circulated the following advertisement throughout Cumberland , Westmorland, and the northern counties :

TWENTY GUINEAS . To be Wrestled for at the Carlisle Races, on Wednesday, the 4th of October, 1815, the sum of Twenty Guineas , in the following Prizes : First Prize, 8. 8. 0. (He that wrestles the last fall with the winner to receive 1. 1. 0.) Every wrestler, who throws his man in the first wrestle, will be permitted to contend for the second class of prizes, with the exception of the winner of the first prize, in whose place a wrestler will be chosen by the Clerk, to make the dividing number even.

Second Prizes : First, 4. 4. 0. ; Second, 2. 2. 0. ;

Third, i. II. 6.; Fourth, i. n. 6.; Fifth, IDS. 6d. ;

Sixth, IDS. 6d. ; Seventh, los. 6d. ; Eighth, IDS. 6d.

'No person to be permitted to contend for any of the above prizes, unless he enrols his name with the Clerk, on the Swifts, before ten o'clock in the morning of the said 4th of October next, as the wrestling will commence precisely at that hour. Any person making the least disturbance, or attempting to force the ring, will be taken into custody, as constables will be specially appointed for that purpose. All disputes to be determined by Joseph Richardson, Esq., umpire'.

The weather during the races proved exceedingly favourable, and the ground was in excellent condition. A greater concourse of people assembled than had been seen for years. The leading families of the two counties were represented. There were the Lowthers, the Vanes, the Grahams of Netherby and Edmund Castle , the Broughams, the Salkelds, the Crackenthorpes, the Senhouses, the Briscoes, the Hasells, the Wyberghs, and others. Sixty-eight men entered the wrestling ring to contend for the principal prize. Included in the list were a fair sprinkling of old veterans, and a whole bevy of young aspirants of considerable promise; namely, Robinson of Hackthorpe, (his first appearance, we believe,) William Slee of Dacre, Tom Todd of Knarsdale, Tom Richardson "the Dyer," Joe Abbot of Thornthwaite-hall, Andrew Armstrong of Sowerby-hall, Thomas Peat of Blencow, Thomas Armstrong, the "yak tree," and the three Forsters of Penton, being among the number.

Robinson entered the ring in excellent spirits, and threw his men generally very cleanly and cleverly. In the first round, he gained an easy victory over John Copley. The next time over, in coming against Armstrong, the "yak tree," all his activity and skill had to be brought into play, before the compressed mass of eighteen stones could be brought to grass. In the third round, he toppled over Edward Forster of Penton, in capital style; and, in the fourth round, James Richardson of Hesket-New-Market, brother to "the Dyer." The fifth time over, George Forster, another of the Penton brothers, (who had thrown Tom Todd in the previous round,) came quickly to grief, under the gamekeeper's brisk fire. Up to this point the Hackthorpe man had shown some really good play; but, says the Carlisle Patriot, before the final struggle commenced, Robinson and William Slee of Dacre had agreed to divide the first prize between them, so that they only played for honour. The "honour" of carrying off the head prize then fell to Robinson's share.

On New Year's day, 1816, the annual meeting at Langwathby was numerously attended. A contributor to one of the local papers says: "Most of the distinguished wrestlers of Cumberland and Westmorland were on the ground, and there never was displayed more skill in the art of wrestling than on this occasion. James Robinson, the noted champion, who won the first prize at Carlisle races, was also successful at Langwathby, and we think he bids fair to excel any man in the kingdom, in this species of amusement. He is a strong-boned, athletic man, but not tall. Before the wrestling commenced, considerable bets were made: the east against the west side of the Eden , which was won by the latter. The purse contended for, was two guineas. It is intended next year to give a much larger sum, as Langwathby is likely to become a distinguished place for wrestling, being situated in a neighbourhood abounding in first-rate players."

In October, 1816, Robinson again attended the Carlisle meeting. Owing to being the victor of the previous year, a high chair was placed for him to sit upon, from which elevated position he commanded an uninterrupted view of the various falls. Entering his name among the contending parties, he threw Joseph Batey, in the first round ; Joseph Brown, in the second ; and William Rome in the third round. Coming against a miller, named William Clark "a tight built lal fellow" from Hesket-New-Market, in the fourth time over, Robinson was very adroitly brought to the ground, amid the deafening cheers of the assembled crowd. No sooner had Clark achieved this unexpected feat, than he created much laughter by marching up to the place of honour, with a dignified swagger, saying, as he sat down: "I think I's fairly entitled tiv a seat i' t' chair, noo, when I've thrown the greit champion ! "

The wrestling at Carlisle in 1817, was held in Shearer's Circus and not on the Swifts as previously when James Robinson, Tom Todd, John Mc.Laughlan, and John Liddle, were looked upon as the principal champions. As it turned out, however, Mc.Laughlan stalked through the ring an easy victor, none of the other three mentioned being able to make any headway against the enormous reach and height of the Dovenby giant. This is the last record known to us of the Hackthorpe gamekeeper as a wrestler.

Robinson has been described by those who knew him, as a sturdy bullet-headed sort of fellow, whose ideas seldom soared above the velveteen coat and corduroy-trouser order of mortals ; a rare hand at either creating a row or quelling one; probably more accustomed to the former than the latter. Nevertheless, he is still remembered in his capacity of gamekeeper, as being an active and trustworthy servant to the Earl of Lonsdale : a terror to all midnight prowlers and others addicted to trespassing among the game preserves at Lowther. He took a prominent part in suppressing a riot among the navvies employed in making the new road near Lowther, about 1818 or 1819.

As Robinson advanced in years, intemperate habits appear to have gained upon him; and for some time he led an irregular, harum-scarum sort of life. He either possessed an estate, or had some interest in one, at Hackthorpe, near Lowther, which he sold, and then foolishly set to work and squandered the money. Ultimately, he became reduced to considerable destitution, and at times fell into such sad states of despair, that one can easily conceive of similar thoughts passing through his mind, to those embodied in Miss Powley's pathetic ballad, " The Brokken Statesman":

O, the fule rackle days ! when in wild outwart ways,

I spent time but i' daftness, wi' raff an' expense.

Then the auld land's neglect, an' my friends' lost respect,

While I scworned to tek counsel I ne'er rued but yence !

When drink bed browt sorrow fresh money to borrow,

Wi' deep debt o' the riggin', puir crops o' the hill ;

Wi' life at the barest, heart sorrow fell sairest ;

Yet e'en then I thowt Cummerland caps them aw still.

In November, 1834, James Robinson was found drowned in Armathwaite bay, eight or nine miles from Penrith, and about the same distance from Carlisle . The waters being very full at the time, it was presumed he had missed his way in the dark, and fallen into the river Lowther, near Brougham a tributary of the Eden . An inquest was held upon the body, but no evidence appeared to the jurors as to how or by what means he was drowned. At the time of this unfortunate event, Robinson was forty-five years old.